Monday, April 27, 2009

Egypt’s View: Iran – Hizbollah – Hamas

INSS, via the PULSE, here

"The direct target of the Egyptian regime's attacks in the past two weeks is Hizbollah and its terror arm in Egypt. However, the Egyptians themselves do not conceal the fact that in their view Hizbollah is merely the tool, and that their main concern is the driving force behind the organization - Iran...

The backdrop to the flawed relations between Egypt and Iran is the nature and character of the fundamentalist regime in Tehran which initially initiated the rift with Egypt: immediately after the revolution the new regime annulled the close relations that had existed between the Shah's regime and Egypt. Iran even cut diplomatic ties with Egypt, in response to the signing of the peace treaty with Israel, and Egypt's hosting of the exiled Shah in Cairo after he left Iran.

In the last decade the Egyptian regime sees the Iranian threat as increasing, for two reasons. On the one hand, Egypt considers Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear arms a serious threat. In Egyptian eyes, nuclear arms in Iranian hands would strengthen its position..... and would damage its regional standing. At the same time, the strengthening of the Shiite-radical axis in recent years, following the rise of the Shiite sector in Iraq and in Lebanon, the Iranian penetration into the Palestinian arena, and the strengthening of Iran's regional influence in the face of the United States' weakness is also a cause of concern for Egypt. The case of Qatar - a usually moderate state that also had established ties with Israel - which recently decided to join Iran and the radical camp, also worries Egypt, as a precedent for what is liable to happen among Gulf States following Iranian pressure. It is no wonder that the Egyptian minister of defense, as far back as 1992, defined the Iranian threat as more serious than the threat from Israel. Since then, the Iranian threat has, in Egyptian eyes, increased.

Egypt's view of the strengthening of Hezbollah and Hamas in recent years is connected to this. Egypt views these two Islamic organizations as Iranian strongholds on the Mediterranean coastline.... and Nasrallah's popularity on the Arab street, which is perceived as the antithesis of the moderate Arab approach. Hamas presents Egypt with additional dangers, some of which are even more serious: it is affiliated with "the Muslim Brotherhood" .....liable to incite unrest in Egypt, out of support for the Palestinians. For these reasons the Egyptian regime attacked the two organizations during their confrontations with Israel - during the Second Lebanon War and during Operation Cast Lead - and accused them of being responsible for the deterioration in the situation. One could read between the lines that Egypt had an interest for Israel to hit the organizations hard, and to weaken them.

The exposure of Hezbollah's deployment in Egypt, and the episode of arms smuggling via Sudan and Sinai into the Gaza Strip, demonstrated to the Egyptian regime the risks posed to its security by the triangle of Iran - Hizbollah - Hamas. The activities affront Egyptian sovereignty and the honor of the Egyptian regime, present a threat to the central administration and create vacuums in its control. There is already such a vacuum in Sinai, dangerously close to the Gaza Strip, and in the past there were such vacuums in Upper Egypt and in the poor neighborhoods of Cairo, which acted as a breeding ground for extremist Islamic terror organizations......

From Israel's point of view, the Egyptian position is of twofold importance. It is important for Israel that Egypt take significant steps against terror elements which are looking primarily to harm Israel - both within Egypt and from the Gaza Strip. It is also important, from Israel's point of view, that a major Arab element came out openly - and not for the first time - against the radical triangle of Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas, and presented it as an opponent and a threat to the moderate Arabic camp. Nevertheless, despite the common interest of Israel and Egypt in blocking the radical triangle, it is difficult to expect open cooperation between them against it. One may assume that Egypt will be willing to use clandestine Israeli intelligence support in acting against it, but would prefer to act alone, or within an inter-Arab framework, due to its sensitivity to cooperation with Israel, which would attract internal and inter-Arabic criticism."

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